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Spinning Faster Than The Magic Teacup Ride:
Charter Management on New York’s Race to the Top Application

With last week’s announcement that New York was a Race to the Top Finalist, shocked charter management bosses were attempting to explain away weeks of argumentation that a failure to capitulate to their agenda would keep New York from achieving that goal. Spinning faster than the magic teacup ride at Disney World, Peter Murphy of the New York Charter School Association absurdly postulated that New York’s initial success will have a negative impact on education funding. This insight came from the same crystal ball which had Murphy prophesying that New York’s RttT proposal was too weak to become a finalist not two weeks ago. Joining Murphy on the magic teacup ride was Thomas Carroll, the proprietor of the Brighter Choice charter schools recently exposed for denying admissions to students with special needs; Carroll had been madly promoting his list of RttT finalists — sans New York — a few days before the announcement. Charter management’s hours organs — the puerile tabloid and Wall Street press — were called in. Fresh from its visit to Disney World, the Daily News decided that it would take a “magic spell” to win funding. And the usual coterie of anti-union bloggers were brought in for reinforcements. All in all, it’s a sight that would leave any teacher with her feet on the ground quite dizzy.

In the original charter management pitch, UFT and NYSUT stood in the way of New York becoming an RttT finalist simply because we insisted that the charter schools had to be real public schools, educating all students, for the charter cap could be raised. Now that this fairy tale has come up against the real world, charter management mouthpieces like NYCSA’s Murphy are attempting to claim that teacher unions will cause the downfall of New York’s RttT proposal at the next stage of the process. Part of this accusation rests on the suggestion that the entire application would rise or fall on the issue of raising the charter cap: in fact, on the U.S. Department of Education rubric for evaluating RttP applications, charter caps are only one of five points in the category “ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools and other innovative schools,” and the category as a whole is assigned only 40 out of a total 500 points. Given the relatively small number of points available, one could only reach the conclusion that the charter cap issue was decisive if you assumed that RttT was a politicized process in which the rubric was nothing more than window dressing. One would have to believe that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was lying when he said that “there are many, many factors we are looking at. Charters were never going to be the determining factor. We said that from day one.”

Just as importantly, the second point in the innovative schools category demands that charter schools “serve student populations that are similar to local district student populations, especially relative to high-need students.” The way to score higher in the category, then, would have been to adopt the legislation sponsored by State Senate leader John Sampson and State Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver and supported by the UFT, which combined an increase in the cap for charter schools with measures that would have had charter schools educate their fair share of high-need students. It was the opponents of this legislation — the New York Charter School Association, the New York City Charter School Center, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, among others — that bear responsibility for what few points New York may have lost on this count.

New York has more of the higher achieving charter schools in the U.S. because of the balance of oversight, accountability and effective regulation struck in our state; no doubt, those factors contributed to NY’s score in this column. The calls by charter management to remove all regulation could only diminish the quality of New York charter schools.

Unfortunately, it’s not likely the view from inside the charter management crystal ball will get much better very soon, if we judge by their reaction to the news that New York was a RttT finalist. Neither evidence nor common sense play much of a role in their complaints about the results, or their disappointment that the RttT application was not the invitation to union bust they so desperately wanted.

There is, of course, another route. Charter management could work with the UFT, NYSUT and elected officials to push for responsible legislation. A charter school law that combines an increase in the cap with regulations that require charter schools to educate all students, especially high need students, seems to be exactly what the Obama administration is looking for. The Post may see equity, oversight and accountability as “poison pills,” but the RttT guidelines clearly include those three elements with the raising of the cap.

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3 Comments:

  • 1 KitchenSink
    · Mar 8, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    Another gross mischaracterization of the poison pill UFT bill, which would have:

    * eliminated one of the most successful authorizers in the country, SUNY
    * subjected charters to duplicative audits by the state comptroller, already struck down by the courts once
    * strapped charters with ELL and special education quotas instead of fostering real conditions for parity, thereby creating an incentive for charters to over-refer kids to the CSE for special education at the same horrific rate district schools do in poor neighborhoods
    * probably continued to reduce/freeze charter funding while district school expenditures continue to grow (not sure on that one – but since NYSUT has continually lobbied for this piece, for no apparent reason other than to shoot charters in the foot, I wouldn’t be surprised)

    Have you ever considered that people who oppose your organization’s awful policies are not anti-union, but rather disgusted by the UFT’s and NYSUT’s blatant ongoing power grab, and by the union’s incredible consistency of putting politics ahead of what’s best for kids?

  • 2 Rosa Bernstein
    · Mar 8, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    Steve:

    It seems that you can’t deny that the RttT rubric would actually be better met by the Sampson-Silver bill, so you have to make stuff up out of thin air about funding. Teacher unions are opposing all cuts to schools, while you and your friends among the charter school management are actually advocating cuts to district schools. How gullible do you think your readers are?

  • 3 Thomas W. Carroll
    · Mar 10, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Mr. Dashevsky,

    Not sure why you took a glancing shot at me in response to your concerns about what Peter Murphy said, but let me clear up some mistakes in your piece.

    1. The Silver-Sampson bill, which the UFT/NYSUT supported, and the Paterson bill, which charter advocates supported, included identical provisions on accountability and transparency. The key differences between the competing bills were (a) limitations on co-locations of charter schools in DOE space and (b) provisions that would have emasculated SUNY as a charter authorizer.

    2. The alleged actions to which you refer did not involve the Brighter Choice Charter Schools.

    3. My piece in City Journal (http://www.city-journal.org/2010/eon0226tc.html) did not predict the Race to the Top ‘finalists,” a much broader group, but rather which states I thought were likely to win the competition in Round 1. I stand by my prediction (not a preference) that NYS will not win in Round 1. When the scoring comes out in April 2010, I believe it will show that the principal area in which New York’s otherwise strong application will lose the most points concerns charter schools.

    4. I agree that the RttT scoring rubric would award points not just for raising the cap (allowing the creation of enough charter schools to hit the 10 percent mark maximizes points for that section), but also awards points for measures that would address facility issues, quality, and special-education. On the latter, I have written about what steps should be taken on special education — neither legislative bill included these provisions. See the blog post titled “Increasing the Number of Students with Special Needs Served by Charter Schools” at http://www.nyfera.org/?page_id=38. I agree with the need to do something about special education, but think the UFT’s idea of setting numerical quotas is a ham-handed approach.